BALTIMORE, Maryland — A presidential candidate who once faced off against Mitt Romney; a running mate who once nearly froze to death living out of her car.
Stir in fiery oratory and an irked celebrity, and you have the 2012 Green Party bid for the White House.
The leftist Greens anointed pediatrician Jill Stein as their 2012 nominee Saturday at a lively national convention, where she laid out their platform of universal health care, tuition-free higher education, forgiveness of student debt, and an immediate moratorium on all housing foreclosures.
The 62-year-old, who is also pushing a Green New Deal that would create millions of jobs and tackle the climate crisis, received 193.5 votes, handily defeating second-place candidate Roseanne Barr, the comedian-turned-activist who did not attend the convention and got 72 votes.
Stein and her running mate, anti-poverty crusader Cheri Honkala who has lived on the margins perhaps more than any major American politician today, are working to get on the ballot in more than 45 states.
Last week, in a Green Party first, they secured federal matching funds.
They aim to square off directly against President Barack Obama and Republican Romney in a series of debates ahead of the November election, but that will be a tough challenge as the Greens attempt to storm the impregnable fortress that is two-party American politics.
“We need a new, unbought political party that can put people of integrity into office,” Stein told some 350 placard-waving members who packed a hotel ballroom, as she described the Greens as “the only national party that is not bought and paid for by corporate money.”
“We are the 99 percent, and this is the year we take our country back,” she added.
It’s a war of attrition. Stein is the most high-profile third-party candidate to run for the US presidency since Ralph Nader caused such political upheaval in 2000, but, like every Green in the dozen years since the party’s formal creation, they face a system that favors the Democrat-Republican duality.
That system, she said, “muzzles” American voices.
“Silence is not an effective political strategy,” Stein told AFP in an interview before her acceptance speech.
“The politics of fear has delivered everything we were afraid of: the expanding wars, the offshoring of our jobs, declining wages, the massive Wall Street bailouts; the meltdown of our climate and our health care, and our education system,” she said.
The voice of citizen politics, she said, “has been snuffed out.”
Stein has had a decade to hone her message. She ran for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, and while Romney won that election, it was widely reported that she bested him in a key televised debate.
The Boston Globe called her “the only adult in the room,” and Stein relishes the opportunity to take on Romney again, as she describes both him and Obama as in the pocket of corporate interests.
Her vice presidential nominee Honkala says the two men have failed to address “the P word” — poverty — on the campaign trail.
For years, Honkala lived that daily disaster. As a young single mother she lost her job in Minnesota, then her home, and wound up living in her car with her son.
“I know firsthand what it feels like to almost freeze to death with a nine year old boy in one of the wealthiest places in the world,” she said.
She climbed out of that crisis after nine months, and in the 25 years since has become one of the nation’s leading front-line human rights defenders.
Stein-Honkala is the most passionate Green ticket in years, but no one is under any illusion that they will be taking the oath of office next January.
Instead their campaign is seen as fueling the rise of local, county and state Green candidates while the party gets its message out to American voters.
Barr, most famous for her hit TV sitcom “Roseanne,” approached the Greens late last year intent on running for president. Her campaign drew some attention but it didn’t gain traction, in part because she failed to do the retail politics such as showing up at events and helping raise money.
On Saturday she caused a ruckus when a supporter read a Barr letter accusing other Greens of conducting a “smear campaign” against her.
Can US Greens have as much impact as their counterparts in Europe, where dozens of Green politicians serve in parliaments?
David Cobb, the 2004 US Green candidate, said it’s possible.
“By every measure of popularity, the Green message does resonate in the United States,” he told AFP.
“The only reason our numbers do not reflect our brothers and sisters in Europe and indeed throughout the world is because of an antiquated voting system of winner-take-all politics,” he said.
“If we had proportional representation the way all of Europe does… Greens would be in the US Congress right now.”